Ex-Navy football player pleads guilty to theft Said he stole to raise money for his mother By EARL KELLY, Staff Writer -Annapolis Capital Published 10/15/09 A military judge yesterday sentenced a former Naval Academy football player to two years in prison for stealing teammates' charge cards and buying stereo headphones he said he sold to raise money for his mother. Under a plea agreement, Midshipman 3rd Class Christopher O. Rivers, a sophomore, will serve one year in prison and will receive a "punitive discharge," the judge said. He also will be on probation for one year after his release from confinement. In a departure from courts-martial involving midshipmen over the past few years, which have been held at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., this proceeding was held in the Uriah P. Levy Center at the Naval Academy. Academy officials said the trial was held in Annapolis as a matter of convenience for the witnesses. Three of Rivers' teammates testified for the prosecution, recounting how Rivers violated the bond among football players. "We are a very close group," said Midshipman 3rd Class Austin Hill, a long snapper on the team. "We call ourselves 'the brotherhood' - we treat each other like brothers, we go into battle together every Saturday." Rivers, who played slotback last year, has been under investigation since April and did not appear on this year's team roster. Now 20, Rivers admitted that on nine occasions between late February and mid-April of this year he stole teammates' Midshipman Store charge cards from their lockers in Ricketts Hall, an athletic facility on the academy's grounds. He then used the cards at least 11 times to buy 33 Bose TriPort headphones, worth $3,958. Prosecutors said Rivers sold the headphones, but did not say if his customers were other midshipmen. A Naval Academy spokesman described store cards as interest-free accounts that mids may use as charge cards on campus at the Midshipman Store, the bookstore and the uniform shop. The academy then automatically deducts the charges from a midshipman's pay. Rivers, as well as several of the mids who testified, told the court they didn't understand how the cards worked, or how much they were entitled to spend. Rivers said at one point that he didn't know at the time he was hurting the mids whose cards he used. "Some people say it is 'funny money' - use as much of it as you want," Midshipman 3rd Class Brian Blick testified. Rivers also pleaded guilty to stealing another football player's calculator, valued at about $190. Rivers told the court during sentencing that he stole things to sell after his mother called him, asking for money. "My mother called and said, 'I need help. Can you send something home for utilities?' … That night, I felt guilty that I'm here. That's when I came up with this (plan to steal). … It was the biggest mistake of my life," Rivers told the court. Rivers grew up in a gang-ridden area of Durham, N.C., he said, and had no father in the house. In high school, he played football and held two jobs at a time to help keep his family going. Rivers attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island before being admitted to the Naval Academy. He said Navy football recruiters told him he'd be making about $800 a month as a midshipman, but they didn't tell him that nearly all of it would go to pay for necessities. At the same time, he said, midshipmen are not allowed to hold down outside employment, which meant that Rivers' family was struggling to get by without his support. The football players who testified against Rivers largely supported his explanation of how little money midshipmen actually receive. The point is borne out by the Naval Academy's Web site, which states that the bulk of a mid's pay goes for "laundry, barber, cobbler, activities fees, yearbook and other service charges." "Actual cash pay is $75 to $100 per month your first year," the Web site tells freshmen, and the amount increases each year, with seniors drawing about $400. Rivers also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice by asking a teammate to tell investigators he was using the charge card with the teammate's permission. The military judge, Navy Capt. Bruce MacKenzie, at one point said to Rivers, "You came here to go to the United States Naval Academy, didn't you? You didn't come here to play football and get paid for it." MacKenzie is the same judge who presided in April over the trial of Julia Kaelberer, a Naval Academy senior who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for theft. Rivers called no witnesses to testify on his behalf, and had no family members or friends in the courtroom.